Washington, DC -
04/29/2010 - Answering a call first issued by President Harry Truman nearly 60 years ago, Virginia today took a significant step forward in addressing the disenfranchisement of military and overseas voters. The Commonwealth thus becomes one of the first states with a significant military population to pass legislation that resolves key voting problems for Americans abroad. HB 1235 and SB 55, which encompass the federal Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment (MOVE) Act and expand the provisions to state and local elections, were among the bills signed by Governor McDonnell during a ceremony at the state capitol today. Delegate Richard Anderson (R-Woodbridge) and Senators Robert Hurt (R-Chatham) and Stephen Martin (R-Chesterfield) led efforts to draft and pass the bipartisan legislation.
The legislation removes obstacles that military and overseas voters commonly encounter by:
- requiring ballots for all federal, state and local elections be transmitted at least 45 days prior to an election;
- mandating the electronic transmittal of blank ballots for all elections, upon request;
- expanding the acceptance of the Federal Write-In Absentee Ballot (FWAB) to all federal, state and local elections; and
- allowing ballots from military voters to be accepted and counted up until two business days prior to the certification of election results.
“Delegate Anderson, a veteran himself, and Senators Hurt and Martin provided leadership on this pivotal legislation that not only makes it easier for American military and overseas voters to participate in federal elections as the MOVE Act requires, but also extends the protections to state and local elections,” said Doug Chapin, director of Election Initiatives for the Pew Center on the States. “Virginia also sets an example for other states to provide service members and citizens abroad with the opportunity to more fully participate in our democracy.”
More than 35 retired generals and military flag officers from the Commonwealth of Virginia endorsed efforts by the Pew Center on the States to enact the bill. Pew worked with Delegate Anderson, Senators Hurt and Martin, the Attorney General’s office, the State Board of Elections and local election officials on the legislation. Virginia currently ranks as fourth in the nation for the highest military population.
The Commonwealth of Virginia is not new to election innovations. Pew, in partnership with Google, Inc., worked with the Virginia State Board of Elections in 2009 to provide critical voting information to all Virginians electronically through the Voting Information Project (VIP). Moving forward, military and overseas voters will be able to use tools fueled by VIP to generate customized ballot listings to assist them with casting federal, state or local write-in absentee ballots.
In 1952, President Harry Truman urged reform of an election system that disenfranchised those serving in the military in World War II and in the post-war reconstruction. A Pew report, No Time to Vote, documented that military and overseas voters still face significant obstacles to casting a ballot. The Pew Center on the States is working on a full complement of election system reforms for military personnel and civilians abroad. Pew has also been examining the problems posed by the nation’s outdated voter registration system and is working with election officials to evaluate options for building a system that is more efficient and accurate, while reducing costs and administrative burdens.
For more information on Pew’s Election Initiatives, visit www.pewcenteronthestates.org/elections